HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out

In times of crisis, or extreme government control, it can be difficult to spread critical information to people who can help. A good example of this was during the Arab Spring in 2011. When your Internet connection is taken away, it can feel as though all is lost. Unless you have a ham radio, that is.

For many people the thought of ham radio conjures up images of old guys twisting knobs listening to static, but it’s actually come a long way in our modern digital age. For example, you can now send tweets via ham radio. This project was actually started in 2011 by [Bruce Sutherland]. The Egyptian government had shut down the country’s Internet access after citizens were posting information about the extreme violence they were facing. [Bruce] wanted a way to help  others get the word out, and he came up with HamRadioTweets. This system allows a user to send tweets via ham radio.

The system actually piggybacks off of a ham radio service called APRS. This service is most often associated with GPS tracking systems, such as those found in nearspace balloons, but it can also be used to send simple text messages over the air. APRS works thanks to the vast network of receiving stations setup all around the world. These stations can receive messages and then re-transmit them, greatly extending the reach of the original transmitter. Some of them are even hooked up to the Internet to get the messages to go distances that would be extremely difficult and unreliable by traditional means.

[Bruce’s] system hooked into the Internet component and watched for messages being sent specifically to “TWITR”. The Python based system would then read these messages and re-transmit them over Twitter. The project died out a while back after Twitter updated their API. Now, it’s been rebuilt on Ruby by [Harold Giddings]. The project website was handed over to [Harold] and he is currently maintaining it. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this software, but if the time comes you will be glad it’s available. You can watch [Harold] bounce an APRS message off of the International Space Station and on to Twitter in the video below. Continue reading “HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out”

Turning the DEFCON Badge Into a Bitcoin Miner

defcon

The DEFCON badge this year was an impressive piece of hardware, complete with mind-bending puzzles, cap sense buttons, LEDs, and of course a Parallax Propeller. [mike] thought a chip as cool as the Propeller should be put to better use than just sitting around until next year so he turned it into a Bitcoin miner, netting him an astonishing 40 hashes per second.

Mining Bitcoins on hardware that doesn’t have much processing power to begin with (at least compared to the FPGAs and ASIC miners commonly used) meant [mike] would have to find some interesting ways to compute the SHA256 hashes that mining requires. He turned to RetroMiner, the Bitcoin miner made for an original Nintendo. Like the NES miner, [mike] is offloading the communication with the Bitcoin network to a host computer, but all of the actual math is handled by a single core on the Propeller.

Saving one core for communication with the host computer, a DEFCON badge could conceivably manage 280 hashes/second, meaning the processing power of all the badges made for DEFCON is about equal to a seven-year-old graphics card.

Hackaday 10th Anniversary: [1o57] and the Art of Encryption

[Ryan] a.k.a. [1o57] comes from an age before anyone could ask a question, pull out their smartphone, and instantly receive an answer from the great Google mind. He thinks there’s something we have lost with our new portable cybernetic brains – the opportunity to ask a question, think about it, review what we already know, and reason out a solution. There’s a lot to be said about solving a problem all by yourself, and there’s nothing to compare to the ‘ah-ha’ moment that comes with it.

[1o57] started his Mystery Challenges at DEFCON purely by accident; he had won the TCP/IP embedded device competition one year, and the next year was looking to claim his title again. The head of the TCP/IP embedded competition had resigned from his role, and through a few emails, [1o57] took on the role himself. There was a miscommunication, though, and [1o57] was scheduled to run the TCP/IP drinking competition. This eventually morphed into a not-totally-official ‘Mystery Challenge’ that caught fire in email threads and IRC channels. Everyone wanted to beat the mystery challenge, and it was up to [1o57] to pull something out of his bag of tricks.

The first Mystery Challenge was a mechanical device with three locks ready to be picked (one was already unlocked), magnets to grab ferrous picks, and only slightly bomb-like in appearance. The next few years featured similar devices with more locks, better puzzles, and were heavy enough to make a few security officials believe [1o57] was going to blow up the Hoover dam.

With a few years of practice, [1o57] is turning crypto puzzles into an art. His DEFCON 22 badge had different lanyards that needed to be arranged to spell out a code. To solve the puzzle, you’ll need to talk to other people, a great way to meet one of [1o57]’s goals of getting all the natural introverts working together.

Oh. This talk has its own crypto challenge, something [1o57] just can’t get out of his blood:

We talked for a little bit, and 0x06 0x0a1 MFY YWXDWE MEOYOIB ASAE WBXLU BC S BLOQ ZTAO KUBDR HG SK YTTZSLBIMHB

The Queercon 11 Badge

DEFCON is known for its unique badge designs, which have featured displays, radios, and tons of LEDs in the past. This year, there was another digital badge at DEFCON. The Queercon 11 badge featured an MSP430, a LED display, an IR interface, and an ISM band radio.

Queercon started off as a DEFCON party for LGBT hackers. Over the past eleven years they’ve run events at DEFCON including parties, mixers, and networking events. Over time the group has grown, become a non-profit, and provided a social network for LGBT people in tech. We must admit that they throw quite a good pool party.

This badge gave you points for meeting other people. When held near another QC11 badge, the IR link sends the identifier for each person. Both badges light up and display the other person’s name, and store the event. This process became known by a variety of colloquialisms, and “badginal intercourse” was a common occurrence at events.

The reader for Queercon 11 badges
The QC11 Badge Reader

The RF radio, implemented using a HopeRF RF69 module, shows how many people with QC11 badges are near you. A base station at events sends out data to give badges points for attendance. As points are accumulated, the rainbow LEDs on either side of the display light up.

At Queercon parties, a reader connected to a dumb terminal read data off the badges. It then shows who the badge has paired with, and what events its been to.

The hardware design and source code have all been released on the Queercon website. The full functionality is discussed in the README.

Hat Hash Hacking at DEFCON

You probably remember that for DEFCON I built a hat that was turned into a game. In addition to scrolling messages on an LED marquee there was a WiFi router hidden inside the hat. Get on the AP, load any webpage, and you would be confronted with a scoreboard, as well as a list of usernames and their accompanying password hashes. Crack a hash and you can put yourself on the scoreboard as well as push custom messages to the hat itself.

Choosing the complexity of these password hashes was quite a challenge. How do you make them hackable without being so simple that they would be immediately cracked? I suppose I did okay with this because one hacker (who prefers not to be named) caught me literally on my way out of the conference for the last time. He had snagged the hashes earlier in the weekend and worked feverishly to crack the code. More details on the process are available after the jump.

Continue reading “Hat Hash Hacking at DEFCON”

DEFCON 22: The Badge Designers

If you go to DEFCON next year (and you should), prepare for extreme sleep deprivation. If you’re not sleep deprived you’re doing it wrong. This was the state in which we ran into [LosT] and [J0nnyM@c], the brains behind the DEFCON 22 badge and all of the twisted tricks that torture people trying to solve the badge throughout the weekend. They were popular guys but wait around until late into the night and the throngs of hint-seekers subside just a bit.

Plans, within plans, within plans are included in the “crypto” which [LosT] talks about in the interview above. We were wondering how hard it is to produce a badge that is not only electrically perfect, but follows the planned challenge to a ‘T’. This includes things like holding off soldering mask from some pads, and different ones on a different version of the badge. Turns out that you just do as well as you can and then alter the puzzle to match the hardware.

Speaking of hardware. A late snafu in the production threw the two into a frenzy of redesign. Unable to use the planned chip architecture, [J0nnyM@c] stepped up to transition the badges over to Propeller P8X32a chips, leveraging a relationship with Parallax to ensure they hardware could be manufactured in time for the conference.

If you haven’t put it together yet, this is that same chip that Parallax just made Open Source. The announcement was timed to coincide with DEFCON.

DEFCON 22: Hack All the Things

This morning I went to a fantastic talk called Hack All the Things. It was presented by GTVHacker. If you don’t recognize the name, this is the group that hacked the GoogleTV. They haven’t stopped hacking since that success, and this talk is all about 20+ devices that they’ve recently pwned and are making the info public (that link still had oath when I checked but should soon be public).

The attacks they presented come in three flavors: UART, eMMC, and command injection bugs. I’m going to add the break now, but I’ll give a rundown of most of the device exploits they showed off. I found all amusing, and often comical.

Continue reading “DEFCON 22: Hack All the Things”